Can Credit Cards be Recycled?

June 2021

My wallet tends to become a burial ground for useless cards every few months. I typically don’t realize it until there’s a large collection of used gift cards, old loyalty cards, and other various PVC cards from past adventures.

But how worthless are they? They’re plastic, after all. Instead of throwing them away in the trash to join the billions of other cards headed to the landfill each year, couldn’t they be recycled and turned into something more useful?

I found out after researching the topic that recycling old PVC cards — which can also include credit cards as well as student IDs and other membership cards — is a lot more difficult than you’d think.

Most credit cards are made of polyvinyl chloride acetate, or PVCA. The acetate gives the card some of that stiffness, yet maintains some flexibility — which is why it’s a good fit for the credit card. That’s the same reason why credit cards are a little difficult to recycle.

That doesn’t mean traditional PVC can’t be recycled, although most community recycling centers don’t accept the material, which can also be found in plastic pipes, shower curtains, medical tubing, and vinyl dashboards. However, once recycled, it can be ground up and reused to make vinyl flooring, window frames, or piping.

Ten billion new cards are placed into circulation every year, but few options exist for recycling the cards once they’ve been used. One such option is, one of the largest s in the country, where consumers can send their plastic cards for recycling.

The added expenses of reclaiming discarded plastic, cutting and grinding it, and transporting it make the material a hard sell to companies working to cut costs and improve their bottom lines.

Companies are working on adding value to discarded plastic by finding innovative ways to extrude the material and keep its properties the same and, in some cases, better than they were before.

Advances in Technology Give New Life to Old Cards

Can credit cards be recycled? Yes — but it’s difficult. The acetate in the PVCA means you can’t just toss them in your curbside recycling bin. Until companies develop several technologies that apply to recycling PVCA, general recycles won’t be able to recycle your PVC cards. Unfortunately the best option for those old cards cluttering your wallet, purse, or nightstand will be to collect them, package them, and send them to a PVCA recycling plant where they will be given a new life — and maybe protect you as the bumper on your next car.